A new national poll reveals a growing trend among parents of young children to turn to social media for advice on various parenting challenges, particularly in managing their children’s sleep.

According to the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health four in five parents say they go to social media to discuss parenting issues. The most common discussions included toilet training (44%), getting kids to sleep (42%), nutrition/breastfeeding (37%), discipline (37%), behavior problems (33%), vaccination (26%), daycare/preschool (24%), and getting along with other kids (21%).

Nearly half of parents rate social media as very useful for getting new ideas to try.

“Many parents turn to online communities to exchange advice or discuss parenting challenges because it may seem faster and easier than asking a health professional,” says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, MPH, in a release. “Finding parent comradery in this space can have benefits, but parents should keep in mind that every family’s experience is different and not everything they hear online may be accurate or the right thing for their child.”

The nationally representative report is based on responses from 614 parents with at least one child aged 0-4. Most mothers and over two-thirds of fathers of children these ages look to social media for parenting advice or to share their experiences, a significant increase since a previous Mott poll explored similar questions in 2015.

Three-fifths of parents say they talk about these topics on social media because they want to hear different ideas, while one in four say it’s convenient or they want to do things differently than their parents. Fewer say they use these platforms because they don’t have family or friends nearby, don’t have enough opportunities to ask their child’s healthcare provider, or are too embarrassed to ask in person.

“Often there isn’t a clear ‘best’ way to do things and many parents use a trial-and-error approach to find what works for their child,” Clark says in the release.

More than a third of parents also rate social media as very useful for making them feel like they’re not alone and learning what not to do while a fourth say it helps them decide whether to buy certain products.

One in 10 parents of young children who use social media also described it as very useful in deciding when to take their child to the doctor. However, with young children, Clark notes, “it is usually prudent to contact the child’s primary care provider with any questions.”

Telehealth visits and messaging through patient portals, she adds, are efficient ways for parents to ask for guidance and determine if the child needs to be seen in person.  

Sharenting Concerns

Most parents identify at least one aspect of social media sharing that concerns them, such as seeing other parents doing something unhealthy or dangerous for their child or others finding out their family’s private information or sharing photos of their child without their child’s permission.   

Nearly 80% of parents also feel other parents overshare on social media by bragging about their child or sharing too often or too much. Meanwhile, over 60% believe parents may give personal information that could identify the child’s location or embarrass the child when they’re older.

Another emerging concern, the poll suggests, is parents sharing information that is false or inaccurate either knowingly or unknowingly.

Two in five parents think it’s difficult to distinguish good versus bad advice on social media.

Particularly for first-time parents, access to so many sources may be both helpful and overwhelming, Clark says in the release. But it’s up to them to verify the accuracy in what they’re hearing.

“There are so many decisions to make about the best way to care for children during the infant and toddler years, which can be an exciting and overwhelming time,” Clark says in the release. “Social media is a convenient way for parents to seek information about parenting challenges in real-time, especially in between checkups. But it’s important that parents identify reputable sources of information about children’s health and parenting and that they consult those sources before attempting new strategies with their own child.”

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